Tuesday, 19 February 2013

The world doesn’t care what you know. It cares what you can do with what you know.

“There’s no competitive advantage today in knowing more than the person next to you. The world doesn’t care what you know. What the world cares about is what you can do with what you know.”

- Tony Wagner

In his book, ”Creating Innovators“ , Wagner points that USA’s economic problems are rooted in its education system. He believes that the present culture of schooling is at odds with the culture of learning that produces innovators and is stunting innovation.

Schools focus on individual achievement  and specialization is celebrated and rewarded. But innovation is a team sport. The challenges , the problems we face are too complex to be solved individually or within a particular subject content or context.We need a cross disciplinary approach and have to  explore problems and their solutions from multiple perspectives.

And then extrinsic incentives drive learning and risk aversion is the norm. “We penalize mistakes,” says Wagner. A’s and F’s are carrots and stick. The whole challenge in schooling is to figure out what the teacher wants. And the teachers have to figure out what the superintendent wants or the state wants. It’s a compliance-driven, risk-averse culture. We follow because we are told to do so by followers who are told to do so by others with everyone believing that someone somewhere in charge knows where it's leading to.

Innovation, on the other hand, is grounded in being intrinsically motivated, taking risks and learning via trial and error. According to Wagner, the school system can’t be mend in it’s present state. No new processes or updated manuals can save it. “The system has become obsolete. It needs reinventing, not reforming.”


  1. I agree but only to some extend.

    I think that Tony Wagner's opinion is very generic and sounds somewhat like yet another cliche.

    I believe that the educational system, indeed, is very much focused on individual achievement. However I dont necessarily see it as a drawback. One must understand his/her strengths, potential first etc. before contributing them to a team. Instead, why cant we teach both - individual and team work?
    It doesn't have to be "either-or".

    This post reminds me of a TED talk "A Power of Introverts", where Susan Cain says: "The problems that we are facing today in the fields of science and are so vast and so complex that we are going to need all sorts of people to solve them". Later she adds: "Im going to leave you now with 3 calls to action (...) Number 1 - Stop the madness for constant group work! (...)
    Schools, the same thing. We need to be teaching kids to work together, for sure. But we also need to be teaching them how to work on their own. That's specially important for extravert children too. They need to work on their own because that's where their deep thoughts come from."

    I totally agree, however, that we penalize mistakes instead of encouraging the attitude of trying. After all, as James Joyce once said: "Mistakes are the portals of discovery."

    1. Thanks gooseberry for sharing the wonderful TED talk by Susan Cain. I too agree that an individual must have built up his personal strengths before contributing in team work. And I believe Tony also agrees with what you and Susan suggests in her TED talk. His actual words are as follows:
      “But innovation is a team sport,” says Wagner. “Yes, it requires some solitude and reflection, but fundamentally problems are too complex to innovate or solve by oneself.”

      I think Tony is not asking us to choose between individual achievement and collaboration. He is suggesting that a very high focus on individual achievement is stunting the collaborative spirit.

      Any misunderstanding of his motive is probably the consequence of my misinterpretation/misrepresentation of his thoughts through this article.

  2. I believe that there cannot be success without team work, but in my experience working with highly effective people, the team gets to the top only through the sweat, blood, and sacrifice of its team members. Then, there also cannot be team success without a very personal commitment and sacrifice.

  3. With regards to schools(not business schools or colleges) the problems and solutions for rural areas, urban areas, sub-urban areas differerent cultural zones need deep thinking understanding and a sense of evolving before promoting all the objectives that Good schooling entails. That process is going on and we must be sensitive to it. I firmly feel we are in transition. Good for the coming generation.

  4. The business of education should be about putting a system in place for the individual to find balance between extremes-to be able to balance team work and individual work, think innovation and yet respect/follow systems, respect what others know and respect what you know and feel....The list is endless
    Life is anywhere in the distance between 2 poles

  5. Appreciating the discussion around building capacity of students as innovators, collaborators, self-directed learners... Have you seen this vid? http://t.co/WbqsgB7JCR Interesting to consider the range of "what to do with what they know/learn" skills the kids are developing here.

  6. My response to the statement “The system has become obsolete. It needs reinventing, not reforming,” is to invoke Ray Bradbury's famous quote. "Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down." We must not suffer from a fear based paralysis, me must trust ourselves to build those wings on the fly, if we are to succeed in reinventing ourselves.

  7. I have to agree - the constant focus on acquiring knowledge and memorising facts which could all be found on Google will never lead us away from the tyranny of formative assessment and standardised testing. Lets not try to fix what can't be fixed - lets break it and build it back up into something fit for twenty first century purpose

    Jaye Richards-Hill - mimanifesto.wordpress.com

  8. Perhaps the world doesn't care but I think there is a competitive advantage in having a large store of knowledge. It's no secret that the more we know, the more we are capable of knowing because with a larger base of prior knowledge we have more to connect new information to. In as much as creativity is, at its heart, (as William Plommer has written) "the power to connect the seeming unconnected", it seems to me there is a distinct competitive advantage to being able to access knowledge immediately through our neural net vs having to fumble for my iPhone, access google, and then find it on Wikipedia, read it, figure it out, and then make the connection.

    I've studied creativity for close to two decades and built a curriculum around a broad, liberal arts based conception of knowledge that seeks to honor, develop, and reveal to students the manners in which creative people think and act. The assessments are project based and team oriented, but the students who routinely rise to the top in those groups are those whose minds can access information quickly, connect it to the problems at hand in new and original ways and then sell those ideas with persuasive power. I believe all my students are creative and have such powers, and I have seen countless students who are generally "outsiders" to the system step up and contribute amazingly creative ideas, but in so far as self-efficacy is concerned, and that's a huge deal, those who feel most competent due to their having mastered and accumulated a large knowledge base are the ones who generally wind up driving the teams.

    None of this, of course, denies that an educational system is broken when all it does is sit kids down, talk at them, and then assess how well they listen and reward the high achievers.

    As well, I agree that the very nature of the "wicked problems" we face in the future will not be solved, most likely, by individuals but by how good we all are at collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication (the 4Cs of 21st Century Learning as per the Partnership for 21st Century Learning). For my tax dollar, as a citizen and a teacher, the best at those things will be those who have an agility of mind born of wealth of knowledge and the ability to access, connect, and employ that knowledge to productive, original ends. Hence the curriculum I've been plugging away at for these past 20 years...well before the advent of the 21st century.